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sunday poem

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Feeling deeply appreciated and nourished by the comments to my previous post, I dip into The poetry of Zen* —

Whatever it is,
I cannot understand it,
although gratitude
stubbornly overcomes me
until I’m reduced to tears.

* by Saigyō Hōshi (西行 法師, 1118–1190) in Hamill, S., & Seaton, J. P. (2007). (trans.). Boston: Shambhala, p. 112. image: “Old Man Weeping” after Van Gogh by Gordon Christie when he was still a teenager.


there are days …

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… when nothing much happens, nothing spectacular anyway. just one thing after another, as on other days. It’s then that the little things grab me by the nose (or ear, as my stepmom used to) and say, “Listen!”

And so it is today. Someone wrote to say “thank you for all you do” and another asked for advice on “where should I go from here.” Then a note from the monastery about “scattering Alex’s ashes,” that lovely man, painter and dad to two sweet kids, who died from some degenerative brain thing. And a friend sending a picture of her love bird named Bean (“because he looked like a green bean when we first got him”) who fell off his perch, twitched a bit, and didn’t survive another seizure. “We wrapped him in tissue paper and buried him in the garden under a flower-pot — after the dog had given him one last sniff.”

Just another day, eh?! There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground, Rumi says. I’m grateful to be disturbed in my slumber.

gotta have

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Dan took this photo at a weekend garage sale and my immediate response was, “did he buy it for me?” It’s just past 6 in the morning and already I must have something that’s not mine, already this deep-rooted greed.

It’s everywhere. When my back aches, I want to be young again. When my lover gets up without a word, I wish she’d tell me why. When my retirement portfolio takes a dip because of something that’s happening in Lybia, I feel deprived. One thing after another, never quite enough. Fact is, I have plenty. Plenty of love, strength, and security. Much to be grateful for, even more to give away.

Greed, along with anger and ignorance, is one of the Three Poisons in Buddhist practice. “They are based on separation,” explains Daido Loori, “on the illusion that things are separate from ourselves. When you turn them around, [they] become the Three Virtues. The virtue of compassion, the virtue of wisdom, and the virtue of enlightenment.” Thanks for reminding me, silly plastic monk.

an ode to love

Healing after the operation continues on schedule, but not as swiftly as I wish it would. Two volunteer supervisors, after I let them know that I won’t be able to serve this week, write gracious notes of appreciation. A friend asks for a quiet moment to confide traumatic memories that continue to haunt. A house filled with sangha members, their partners and children (well, one adorable child so at ease in our midst), home-cooked food in abundance, easy conversation, much laughter, dishes cleaned and put away, left-overs in the fridge.

The very fact that I may sit, able to write and knowing that you’ll be reading this — in short, an abundance of gifts reminding me that love is what truly matters. Not any particular kind of love — neither romantic, platonic, sexual, filial, material, possessive, or otherwise. Reminding myself that I am loved — appreciated, liked, valued, respected, and somehow significant in other people’s lives. Knowing when enough is enough, the saying goes. Appreciate the cup regardless of its fullness; see what’s freely given and always there for the asking.

To mind come lines by Rumi, the 13th century Persian sage who knew all this:

Don’t let your throat tighten
with fear. Take sips of breath
all day and night, before death
closes your mouth.

… and …

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

source: Excerpts from Barks, C. & Moyne, J. (1995). The Essential Rumi. HarperOne.


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Since I came to this hermitage
How many years have passed?
If I am tired I stretch out my feet;
If I feel fine I go for a stroll in the mountains.
The ridicule or praise of worldly people means nothing.
Following my destiny, for this body I have received
     from my parents
I have only thanks.

Stevens, J. (2006). (trans). One robe, one bowl: the Zen poetry of Ryokan (1758-1831). Boston: Weatherhill, p. 45.

bowing to our teachers

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A week ago Chong Go Sunim, our monk-correspondent in Seoul, wrote about the annual Teachers’ Day in Korea …

… when people go to pay their respects to those teachers who’ve had an impact in their lives. Seeing a group middle-aged men, made up of sun-burnt farmers in cheap suits and manicured business men all laughing and joking together, everyone passing by knows they were once fellow students, now come together to greet their old teacher.

My thoughts went to the teachers who’ve made a difference in my life. Several came to mind immediately: my Grade One teacher (Herr Sommer, kind teddy bear of a man, who drove one of the first post-war cars so tiny as to barely contain his large frame) and my doctoral advisor (Carl Leggo, poet from Newfoundland and professor at UBC who, by example, showed me how to write from the heart). And many others in between. Some of them nasty (such as the one we addresses as “Yes, chef!”, the one who had his hands full beating his apprentices whether they’d made mistakes or not) and many loving (such as Chozen and Hogen Bays, my monastic teachers for the last ten years, who’ve nourished my Buddha Nature with such patience). May they all be blessed for their intentions and efforts. May they be happy.

Which teacher do you remember?

[b]elated gratitude

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Because of a few songs
Wherein I spoke of their mystery,
Women have been
Exceptionally kind
to my old age. …

© 2004 Leonard Cohen.
CD cover